16 August 2019

Outcry at Steel's cuts to weekend bus services to improve reliability

| Ian Bushnell
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Rapids to stay but local routes to suffer in an adjusted timetable. The Government says recruiting more drivers is the answer. File photos.

The ACT Government’s move to put the brake on weekend bus services to improve their reliability has provoked a backlash from the other political parties and public transport advocates, who floated the possibility of private contractors.

The announcement comes after the Government faced increasing pressure over continuing weekend cancellations due to a lack of drivers, and after the Legislative Assembly called on it to address the issue and find better ways to notify passengers.

The Government has responded by announcing that a revised weekend timetable is to be introduced on Saturday 28 September at the end of the current school term, with local route buses running less frequently, up to every two hours.

Thursday’s Assembly resolution, after a Liberals motion was amended by the Government and the Greens, called on the Government to release an action plan within a month.

The Greens amendments also called on the Government to increase bus driver numbers through continued recruitment and consider incentives for drivers to work weekends.

Transport and City Services Minister Chris Steel said the new network had seen extra 1377 weekend services and 27 per cent more journeys on public transport on weekends compared to the same period last year.

But not enough drivers have been volunteering for weekend shifts to cover them and average weekend reliability has been at 89 per cent, which the Government admits is not acceptable.

While the Government has embarked on a recruitment campaign, specifically for part-time and casual drivers, to fill the gaps, it has now decided that it needs to cut services.

Mr Steel said network planners would work closely with the Transport Workers Union to agree on the new bus driver shifts, and services may be restored when more drivers came on board.

He said that rapid bus services would run at same frequency, services would still start early and run late and weekend services would still run on the same route and same number as the weekday services.

Transport Minister Chris Steel: services may be restored when more drivers came on board.

The Public Transport Association of Canberra (PTCBR) said the Government’s response was not a sustainable long-term solution and the current driver EBA was not fit for purpose.

“It’s very disappointing that the Transport Canberra drivers still won’t volunteer to work weekends in sufficient numbers,” PTCBR Chair Damien Haas said.

“While driver recruitment could have been increased in the lead-up to Network 19, it still remains a fact that the voluntary aspect of weekend work is a 1970s workplace practice, and is no longer suitable for a seven day a week bus network.

“The composite hourly rate that drivers are paid, should ease a move to a shift system where adequate numbers of drivers can be allocated to bus services on a seven day a week basis.”

He said contracting private bus operators using MyWay readers may be the way forward.

“While the TWU would not like this option, the solution lies in their hands, and their willingness to adhere to the EBA they agreed to,” he said.

The PTCBR also wanted to see improved real-time data that would enable the various timetable apps, such as NXTBUS to be more reliable.

Mr Haas said the privately operated Canberra Metro light rail continued to operate seven days a week, and that light rail vehicle drivers appeared to be happy to work weekends.

Greens Transport spokesperson Caroline Le Couteur also said cutting weekend routes was not a real solution.

“It’s particularly concerning that with suburban routes cut, it appears that some people will have no bus service over the weekend,” she said.

Ms Le Couteur said the Government had not flagged any of these changes in the Assembly during debate on the issue.

“The other question is what is going to happen between now and 28 September? Will the unscheduled cancellations continue? Right now the Canberra public deserves certainty,” she said.

The Liberals transport spokesperson Candice Burch said the Government had admitted defeat and was incapable of delivering the weekend bus network that was promised.

“Mr Steel has also continuously refused to publish a list of cancelled services, instead instructing Canberrans check the NXTBUS app 90 minutes before their journey.

“Now, rather than fixing driver shortages, the Minister has decided to just cut the weekend services that Canberrans were promised,” she said.

And with services being cut from 28 September, it is still not clear how the Minister will give passengers certainty that their bus will run over the next six weeks.”

At Tuggeranong Bus Depot, Mr Steel welcomed eight bus drivers who graduated from their training on Friday (16 August), with 12 more having just started their training. Another 16 will start training in the coming weeks.

Mr Steel with the new recruits.

Mr Steel with the new graduates.

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I attended a talk about 20 years ago by the consultant who was responsible for turning Sydney’s bus network around at that time. He wrote a report for the ACT government and his major dot point recommendations were:

1. Get rid of bus only corridors and express lanes because they’re a barrier to people who want to use the service.
2. Buses need to run frequently and consistently day and night seven days a week. Passengers should be able to just go to a stop and know there will be a bus arriving in a reasonable time.
3. Eliminate or minimize the need to make connections. The more connections there are to get from A to B the less reliable the service.

These are all about building confidence in the service to the point were people will want to use it.

It’s time….for ANOTHER Transport Minister to resign!

HiddenDragon6:34 pm 18 Aug 19

Negotiating an EBA which folds weekend (and public holiday?) penalties into a commuted rate of pay, and then – “imagine our surprise” – discovering that there aren’t enough volunteers to do the work which used to attract penalty payments, sounds like a really good strategy for ratcheting up pay across-the-board.

So which Ministerial mastermind was in charge when this EBA was signed off on by the ACT Government?

The composite rate and voluntary weekends have been around for 25 years or more.

Cutting services hasn’t worked. R6 on Sun 18 August hasn’t operated since 12.30pm. I met two elderly ladies waiting for that bus – one had been there 2 hours. A very kind TC operations manager took them to their destinations in a mini bus. Clearly the lack of drivers, no penalty rates and poor scheduling is turning the bus service on weekends into chaos. The people who are impacted are the elderly and disadvantaged who can’t afford Uber or Taxis. Very sad to see what was a good bus service deteriorate into chaos.

Capital Retro7:46 am 19 Aug 19

How come the operations manager works at the weekend when there are no operations?

They do get penalties but rolled into their base pay. Pay they get even if they refuse to do weekend work and only work 9-5 M-F. That’s where this whole thing is wrong.

Fair enough some don’t want to work weekends in which case they should be on base pay.

Also the reduced service weekend timetable hasn’t started.

Capital Retro8:23 am 17 Aug 19

It’s time to shut down ACTION weekend (non) services and get ride-share contractors in to do the job.

You’d have thought they might have considered the staffing issues during the planning of the weekend services in the original timetable. Looks like they charged ahead adding services and hoped for the best.

They did. They have wanted a single route structure and more weekend buses for years now and this was always the reason that stopped them.

So they’ve gone ahead and added weekend bus services without having solved the issue of staffing them properly. That looks to me liking charging ahead and hoping for the best.

The government and Transport Canberra often responded to complaints that Tuggeranong had experienced worse Bus services since the new network with the comment that “there are now additional bus services for commuters on the weekends and that’s why there has to be some losers in some areas of canberra”. Now that they are rolling back weekend services, Does this mean they will reinstate services for those who lost them?

Surely yet another change to the buses (when they keep telling us there won’t be any changes for 12 months) further demonstrates that this is the worst bus network changes in history.

ChrisinTurner4:27 pm 16 Aug 19

There are many indicators that the current government is not in favour of public transport. Their policy of only using volunteers at the weekend, no traffic signal priority for buses, limited bus lanes (even when requested by ACTION). Light Rail was built for the developer donors, not to improve the service provided.

It’s not government policy to only have volunteers it is part of a negotiated EBA.

Oh and there are priority bus lights at plenty of locations and plenty of dedicated bus lanes too. In fact cannot think of too many more places where dedicated lanes and priority would make much difference. No point having them unless they actually do something.

And yes stage 1 light tail is mostly about urban renewal, but so what? The Northborne Ave corridor was full of sorry looking buildings well past their use by date so why not kill two birds with one stone?

The EBA traded penalty rates for a higher base rate of pay, with an “understanding” that weekend and night shifts would continue to be filled (with no contractural requirement to do so)

I am sure the TWU are patting themselves on the back for pulling that one off, even though the people most affected are those trying to get to work on the weekends.

So why aren’t the union members keeping up their side of the bargain?

Fantastic, Great move. Well done TWU.

For the record the composite rate is nothing new. The 2013 EBA is available by a simple google search and it was in it as far back as then.

A composite rate in itself is not a bad thing but doesn’t work when people can refuse to work weekend work. In that case those people should be on the base rate

Stephen Saunders11:42 am 16 Aug 19

Here’s an avenue to government. Libs. For once, totally back light rail and its willing staff, but smash the union choke hold on the buses.

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